Love behind Electrified Fences

The Oasis    by Petru Popescu

355 pp., St Martin's Press New York 2001  ....   reviewed by David P. Stern

    This unique, powerful book tells the story of a love during the European Holocaust, a story deserving to stay etched in the reader's memory. The "Oasis" is the Nazi concentration camp at Mühldorf, an outlier of the infamous Dachau camp in Bavaria near Munich. An oppressive prison, surrounded by an electrified fence and watchtowers with searchlights, but a large step up for Blanka Davidovich, who arrived there in the fall of 1944, in a cattle car from Auschwitz together with 300 other young women. The prime purpose of Auschwitz was to kill--death may have been delayed for working prisoners, but was never far off. Mühldorf, in contrast, was a slave labor camp, devoted to building a large secret airplane factory for the Nazis, and because the labor of inmates was needed, they were better fed, allowed to wash and given access to old clothing of undisclosed origin. Also, unlike Auschwitz, it was deep inside Germany, in the belly of the beast, and the presence of German civilians may have prevented the worst excesses.

    Furthermore, by the fall of 1944, German power was eroding. The Nazis were slowly facing the reality that, barring a miracle, their war would never be won. Americans had landed in France, Russians had reached Poland and Allied bombers dominated the skies. Germans started wondering what their own fate would be.

    But in Mühldorf, death remained close at hand: just registering under a false name--as Blanka had done, to stay with friends--could lead to being sent back on a one-way trip to Auschwitz. She was saved by Mirek, a resourceful electrician employed in defusing unexploded bombs. Crafty Mirek, who had learned to manipulate the prison system to his own advantage, was attracted to Blanka and helped her survive.

    A strange book: indeed, it reads like a novel. At first the reader will wonder whether here is a work of fiction, especially since the author is a man, whereas its the story is told in first person from the point of view of Blanka (later Mirek's voice also emerges from time to time). The explanation comes in the afterword: the author married the daughter of Blanka and Mirek and has invested considerable effort in recording their story and tracing information that bears on it. It seems like a true account.

    And yet it reads like a novel, full of drama, and reader may wonder if some of the drama just fills gaps in the author's record. Who knows? This book has more happy endings than most Holocaust accounts--a rather depressing literature, all in all, and readers do not like to be depressed. No matter. Seek out this book and read it, here is a powerful testimony to the resilience of the human spirit.

Author and Curator:   Dr. David P. Stern
     Mail to Dr.Stern:   david("at" symbol) .

Last updated 17 August 2009